In Iraq, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani is being sworn in today as Iraq’s new president. Talabani told reporters his presidency shows that “all Iraqis are equal before the law”. He said, “It means that there is no discrimination, that all Arabs, Kurds and other nationalities have the same rights.” Also being sworn in today are Talabani’s two deputies: the Sunni Ghazi Yawer, who had been serving as interim president; and Shiite Adel Abdul Mahdi, who is the country’s former finance manager.
””:http://images.democracynow.org/images/story_images/IraqHostageNoteLarge.jpgThe U.S military has been accused of taking two Iraqi women hostage in order to pressure their wanted relatives to surrender. This according to a report by the Reuters news agency. The U.S. has confirmed the two women are in custody but have not revealed why they are being held. The Al-Batawi family is claiming that U.S. soldiers and officers in the Iraqi National Guard came to the house in Taji looking for three brothers in the family. But since the men were not there the troops seized their mother and their sister. The family showed a Reuters reporter a note left by the troops that read in Arabic “Be a man and give yourself up and then we will release your sisters. Otherwise they will spend a long time in detention.” Amnesty International said the U.S. might have broken international law by taking the women.
The Justice Department has admitted for the first time that the FBI used a secret search warrant to enter the home of Brandon Mayfield a lawyer from Portland Oregon while it was investigating the March 2004 train bombings in Madrid. Wth the search warrant FBI agents secretly entered the house of Mayfield where they took over 300 photographs and seized material including DNA samples and fingerprints. Based in part on that search, the FBI mistakenly linked Mayfield — who is a convert to Islam — to the bombings. He was then arrested and jailed. The FBI claimed his fingerprints matched a set of fingerprints on a bag of detonators connected to the bombing in Madrid. Mayfield was freed after two weeks when the FBI realized they made a mistake matching the fingerprints.
The Washington Post is reporting that the investigation has essentially ended into who within the Bush administration leaked the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame. Legal experts and sources close to the case speculated Wednesday that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald is not likely to seek any criminal indictments. On March 22, Fitzgerald filed legal papers that suggested the investigation was over except for interviews with two reporters who have refused to testify. Fitzgerald’s filing was part of his effort to persuade the court to order the testimony of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper to wrap up his investigation. Miller and Cooper potentially face prison sentences for refusing to testify.
A newly declassified report by the National Academy of Sciences has found the government has failed to address the risk of hijacked planes flying into nuclear power plants. The report states, “There are currently no requirements in place to defend against the kinds of larger-scale, pre-meditated, skillful attacks that were carried out on September 11, 2001.” The National Academy is considered to be the country’s premier scientific body. The report was completed months ago but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had been attempting to keep the entire report classified. The report also states that federal secrecy edicts designed to keep information from would-be attackers were paradoxically hurting efforts to defend against such attacks.
White supremacist Matthew Hale was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years in prison for plotting to assassinate a federal judge. Hale is the leader of a white power group called Creativity. The group was called the World Church of the Creator but a federal judge ruled Hale had to change the group’s name for trademark reasons. Hale then tried to arrange for that judge — Joan Humphrey Lefkow — to be killed. Lefkow is the same judge who was in the news in February when her husband and mother were murdered in her home. At the time Hale was seen as a top suspect but police ended up arresting a man unconnected to the white power movement. That man–Bart Ross–confessed to killing the judge’s family. He has since committed suicide.
A historic bus ride is taking place today in Kashmir. For the first time in 60 years, bus service has resumed between the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir to the Indian-controlled part of the region. Pakistani militants opposed to Indian rule have vowed to disrupt the buses. On Wednesday in Srinagar, the capital of Indian Kashmir, four militant groups set fire to a highly fortified compound where passengers were waiting to board the bus. The passengers were evacuated safely but a gun battle broke out between police and the militants. The BBC reports two militants were shot dead and three bystanders were hurt. And earlier today, the bus came under a grenade attack but no one was injured. The new bus service is being seen as a symbol of improving relations between India and Pakistan, who both claim Kashmir in its entirety. The bus service is intended to enable Kashmiris to visit their kin living on opposite sides of the Line of Control that divides the disputed territory.
In Afghanistan, 16 U.S. troops died after their transport plane crashed on Wednesday. It marked the deadliest incident for the U.S. military in three and a half years of combat in Afghanistan.
On Capitol Hill, Democratic Senators have temporarily blocked the confirmation of President Bush’s nominees to head the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration. EPA nominee Stephen Johnson came under intense criticism by Senator Barbara Boxer for his role in a controversial pesticide testing experiment in Florida. Under that program federal researchers offered low-income parents in Duval County nearly $1,000 to allow scientists to measure the effects of pesticides on children under the age of one year. Boxer called the program unethical and immoral. She said “it’s environmental injustice where children are the victims.” Hearings were also held Wednesday for Lester Crawford who has been nominated to head the Food and Drug Administration. Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton of New York and Patty Murray of Washington vowed to hold up his nomination until the FDA allowed the morning-after-pill be sold. Last year an expert panel of scientists recommended the emergency contraceptive known as Plan B be sold but the FDA has yet to issue a final ruling.